Thursday, February 10, 2005

Hypocrisy and Accusations, Public and Private

I'm discombobulated about a couple of things tonight.  Let me tell you about them.

1. Bankrupting the Elderly

On the NPR show Here and Now today, host Robin Young interviewed a couple of people about seniors trying to qualify for Medicaid without completely gutting their assets, leaving themselves and their heirs with nothing. The first of the guests, Jim Frogue, repeatedly characterized such people as "rich," and suggested that they impose an unfair tax burden on the rest of the country.  The second guest, Boston lawyer Harry Margolis, pointed out that very little cheating goes on, that such people are generally far from rich,  and that President Bush is trying to do away with estate taxes that currently only apply if you inherit $1.5 million or more.  Lowering the threshold for such taxes, Margolis pointed out, would more than fund the Medicaid for people farther down the economic ladder, whose only asset may be a house they bought in the 1940s for under $30,000.

Well, you've probably deduced that such a discussion reminded me painfully of the end of my mom's life.  So when Robin Young invited listeners to send their comments in email, I did so:

Mom, Aunt Flora, and catIn the last year of her life, my mom, a retired psychologist and college professor formerly listed in Who's Who of American Women, went from an affordable apartment with access to meals and friends to another apartment where she didn't go to meals because it was too difficult to get there, and finally into a small room in an adult care home, with a possibility of having to share that room with another patient.  Part of this was due to her own declining health, but a lot of it was because of the way the system works.  First her senior living complex went to all assisted living and doubled her rent, and then she had to spend down her meager resources for an ever-declining standard of living.

I was frankly shocked that an intelligent, middle class woman who worked until she was nearly 70 should end up having to scramble to find a  way to fund her own funeral, and still be penalized for having too much in assets.  Ultimately we had to cash out her mutual funds, buy a used car (so I could take her to doctor appointments in more reliable transportation than a hand-me-down 1984 New Yorker) and a VCR, prepay the funeral, and leave her completely destitute and miserable, all to qualify for AHCCCS here in Arizona. The only alternative would have been to spend thousands of dollars a month that she didn't have, cashing out her only source of income other than Social Security and ending up with no money for a funeral.

Maybe it ultimately didn't matter, at least for my mom.  A few weeks after the AHCCCS paperwork was finally completed, she was dead.  I inherited about $1000, and a room full of worthless, largely broken furniture, stained clothing and costume jewelry.  It's not much to show for such a long and distinguished life, is it?

It's not that I was counting on inheriting much money, because I wasn't. But nobody should have to live as my mom did at the end, and then be smugly characterized by a guest on your show as a "rich" American whose care should not burden taxpayers.

Karen Funk Blocher (pronounced Blocker)

I was surprised and pleased to get this back in response:

Thanks so much for your letter.
I hope you heard our second guest as well.
These are middle and lower middle Americans,
and in fact, they're mostly women like your mom
(and mine).

I really like Robin Young.  Aside from that nice note, she's a very good interviewer.

I remembered later that besides the mutual funds, which lost a chunk of their value in 2000-2002 anyway, Mom's income sources included a small alimony check and a mortgage payment.  It all added up to an adequate income when her rent was $575 a month, but not enough to break even when went up to $1350 a month.  Mom negotiated her rent down to $1100 a month, but it was still a strain.  (These numbers are from memory,but you get the idea.)  And yet she still didn't qualify for assistance. So she cashed out the mutual funds, and I got the lady in Florida to pay off the condo a year and a half early. Mom then bought me my used Saturn, so that I could take her to doctor appointments in a reliable car, and John could take the ancient, oil-burning, frequently-stalling New Yorker to work. Should I feel guilty about the Saturn?  I don't.  Someone from the state said it was legitimate for her to buy it.  Three years later, I'm still very grateful that she did.

2. Am I a False Friend?

The other surprising piece of email today was from someone whose screen name is vaguely familiar at best. I won't give the screen name here, because I don't want to poison the well against her, or whatever the appropriate metaphor may be.  I may possibly have been by her journal once, or seen a comment by her in someone else's journal.  As best I can tell, that was the full extent of my contact with this person until I received the following email, quoted here in full except for a pair  of odd links:

pretending to be someones friend is putting others down its just wrong

My first reaction was confusion.  Say what?  Excuse me?  It took a few readings of this illiterate, unpunctuated, run-on nonsentence to parse its meaning, and even then I had no idea what she was talking about.  Whose friend did I supposedly pretend to be, and it what way did it constitute putting others down?  My first thought was that she mistakenly thought I'd betrayed or criticized a well-known journaler whose work I enjoy very much.  But no, that didn't make sense, as far as I could tell.  Maybe it was a reference to my having mentioned in a comment, naming no names (then or now), my strained relationship with a former close friend.  Again, it seemed unlikely, because I didn't say that the friend was particularly at fault for the situation.

Was this person from my learning team, about which I posted a very mild and oblique complaint one night when I was terribly frustrated?  Apparently not.  At least, the screen name is completely unlike the email addresses I had for those people.  Nor does this email seem to relate to the fact that I still owe three of you your prizes for the Holiday Trivia.  I haven't forgotten, folks!  I'll get to it this weekend.

Was it something to do with my Ash Wednesday posting?  Anything that mentions religion tends to rub people the wrong way, sometimes at both ends of the spectrum.  Perhaps she didn't like my disclaimer at the end.  Does she think I'm a false friend to Jesus?  To St. Michael's?  To you folks, whom I characterized as not being fools?

Perhaps it was something more personal.  Perhaps she thought I'd pretended to be her friend, by leaving a pleasant comment in her journal.  I Googled up the screen name, and checked a few of the Weekend Assignment response postings, but I didn't find her, at least not as someone who posted about the Super Bowl or karaoke.  I did find a comment of hers to a Scalzi posting, asking him an incomprehensible, vaguely accusatory question.

Well, I'll never know what this person had in mind, because I've blocked her screen name from my journal and my mailbox.  But I did reply to her email:

Excuse me?   Who are you, and what the heck are you talking about?  (And do I want to know?)  I can't think of anyone toward whom I have "pretended" friendship, EVER. There are people with whom I've had ups and downs, with whom I've tried to keep the peace after the friendship faltered. There even have been people with whom I was never friends, but I still tried to get along with them. Yes, I've gotten mad at people, and once or twice I've made oblique references online to disagreements with others. But no, I can't think of one case in my entire life where your illiterate accusation is justified.

Is this a spam?  A virus?  Or just a drive-by attack? Are you someone in whose journal I left a positive comment?  Is that a crime, to say something nice to a stranger?  What a strange, un-Christian idea that is.  In fact I try to leave a comment only when I can think of something nice to say that I *really believe*.

Not a hypocrite, sorry.  You, on the other hand, apparently left a really nasty, nonsensical comment on John Scalzi's blog a few weeks ago. I just came across it Googling your screen name, trying to find any evidence of my ever having had contact with you.  I didn't find one.

I'll be blocking your screen name.  I don't like random attacks.  However, I hope and pray that whatever your problem is, you will eventually overcome it, and be happier, healthier and more loving.


This will probably just make her angrier, but I tried to respond honestly and fairly.  Really, despite my annoyance, I have to admit that she's done me a favor.  During Lent, I'm supposed to make a thorough examination of my conscience.  Because of her, I've just done so.  Oh, yeah, I see a number of areas in which my behavior has been less than stellar, and if I get picky enough, I can even call myself a little bit of a hypocrite.  I think that's true of pretty much everyone, because we all fall short of our ideals, assuming we have any. But overall, I think this person was way off the mark--whatever she was talking about.


Update:  I researched the emailer's screen name in a little more depth, and found her strange comments in a number of AOL Journals.  Pet-related entries got positive comments, but several other postings drew threats to report people to AOL, or a claim that she had already done so.  Why she would lodge complaints about these journalers was not clear, since none of the postings I saw were remotely controversial, let alone TOS-worthy. In one case, however, the commenter leveled an accusation very similar to the one above, against one of the nicest people in AOL-J Land.  Well, I'd say that explains it.  Mystery solved.  This person's behavior fits remarkably well into my Psych 101, psychologist's daughter concept of paranoid schizophrenia.  I sincerely hope she seeks treatment soon.


jeff466 said...

I wish I'd have caught that broadcast.  My parents tried to get help (for my Mothers surgery to remove her cancerous tumor) and were denied for making $100 more a month that allowed!  Luckily by the grace of God and some really caring people in the system, they were able to do so.

Sorry you had the schizo email!  I've read your journal for awhile and have never read anything I took as derogatory against someone.  Some people get their jollies in the strangest ways and I hate to see nice people be the brunt of it.  I'm glad you turned it all into a positive spin.

Have a great weekend, Jeff

ondinemonet said...

Hey :)

Comments like that can be rough, but we are writing in the wide open spaces here and unfortuately we have to take the bitter with the sweet...thank goodness there is much more sweet then bitter.

Always, Carly :)

deabvt said...

The exact same thing with my mother-in-law.

ryanagi said...

My MIL went through this with her order to get assistance with the high nursing home fees, she had to liquidate all her assets and gave all her money away. Some of the money came to us and helped us buy this house. We looked at it as an early inheritance from Grandma. It's horrible that she had to do that with her life's savings just to be able to afford adequate care in a halfway decent facility. As to the weird email you received...things that make you go "hmm" (and block screen names). LOL